By George Chen
On the heels of a dominant sweep over Washington a week ago, the Cardinal softball squad closed out the regular season this past weekend with an impressive series win over Utah on the road.
The Cardinal (38-17, 11-13 Pac-12) was blanked by the Utes (28-28, 2-22) by a score of 6-0 in game one, but bounced back with a 9-1 blowout in the second game and a 12-9 victory in the series finale. With the road wins, Stanford wound up sixth in the highly competitive Pac-12 standings.
Junior pitcher Teagan Gerhart was uncharacteristically shaky on the mound early in Thursday’s game, as she allowed five earned runs despite a six-strikeout performance. The Utah offense managed to inflict most of its damage in the bottom of the second inning by scoring five quick runs.
The Stanford bats did not help Gerhart much either. Utah senior pitcher Generra Nielson dished out eight strikeouts and held the Cardinal to just four hits over seven complete innings. Senior catcher Maya Burns was the leader of an otherwise quiet offensive showing, going 2-for-3 at the plate.
But the Utes could only hold off the Cardinal for so long. In game two, the Cardinal’s bats exploded. Senior shortstop Ashley Hansen stole the show in the batters box, going 4-for-4 and matching her career-high for hits in a game. Just as impressive was the fact that Hansen hit her 18th career triple in the process, breaking a school record. The senior currently leads the Pac-12 in triples, with eight so far this season.
Joining Hansen in the offensive showcase was freshman leftfielder Leah White, who hit a three-run homer in the top of the sixth that allowed Stanford to put away Utah for good. The dinger added to White’s already impressive rookie campaign by giving her a total of five home runs on the season. Freshman third baseman Hanna Winter also hit well at the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4. And the hitters behind her in the lineup certainly did their jobs, as five Cardinal hitters drove in one run or more.
Freshman pitcher Nyree White’s dominant performance on the mound also proved to be critical in Stanford’s victory in game two. White, who played on the U.S. Junior National Team this past summer, did not give up a single walk or an earned run. The only run that the Utes scored came from a Cardinal defensive error in the bottom of the first inning. The win improved White’s season record to 7-6 and set up the rubber match.
In the decisive game three, the Stanford offense once again showed up in full force, and Utah’s Nielson could not limit the scoring the second time around. Hansen continued her hot streak by hitting a home run and a double along with scoring three runs and driving in another pair. Matching Hansen, both White and junior second baseman Jenna Rich accounted for three RBI in the game.
The Utes didn’t go down without putting up a tough fight, however. Utah put the pressure on Stanford right away by scoring in the first inning. On the mound, Gerhart pitched 4.2 innings in which she gave up six runs, but only one was earned. Nyree White came in to relieve Gerhart in the fifth despite pitching six full innings the day before, but Gerhart showed her toughness once again by re-entering the game in the sixth to pick up her second save of the season.
With the regular season officially wrapped up, Stanford has set its eyes on the postseason after receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament two days ago. Postseason play is nothing new for the Cardinal, which is making its 15th consecutive appearance in the national tournament. The Cardinal will square off against Baylor (33-20) in Lafayette, La., in the opening round of the tournament on Friday.